The hype for Suicide Squad has been nothing short of immense. The cinematic battle between Marvel and DC is at its peak, and so far Captain America and co have had the upper hand. After the rather mixed Man Of Steel and the – let’s be honest – absolutely dismal Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad represents DC’s chance at redemption. Sadly, DC have once again fallen way short of the mark.
I was desperate to love this movie. The fantastic poster campaign and teaser trailers hinted at a fun yet dark Gotham universe - something much more playful that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy but still keeping the right side of Joel Schumacher territory. And there was much anticipation to see Jared Leto’s take on The Joker, as well as seeing the first on-screen incarnation of Harley Quinn. The overall result however, is a bit of a jumbled mess – a mish-mash of styles, uneven pacing, and sloppy editing.
The set-up is simple: Superman isn’t around anymore (watch BvS to find out why), so a secret government agency led by Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller assembles a crackpot bunch of criminal misfits to protect the country against possible meta-human attacks (as you do). This bunch of villains are recruited to act against their will in exchange for clemency. And as a result – yes you’ve guessed it – all chaos breaks loose. And that is pretty much all there is to it.
So what are the cast like in it? The big question is: does Leto’s Joker manage to stand tall with the Nicholson and Ledger portrayals? Well the short answer is, kind of. Any on-screen Joker will always now be overshadowed by the late, great Heath Ledger. And to his credit, Leto does do an ok job of being just a little different to Ledger and Nicholson, by playing more on a ‘Latino gangster’ take of the clown.
The main problem is the film’s treatment of the character. Firstly, if you’ve seen all of the trailers then you’ve already seen about 90% of Leto’s performance. And the Joker is just sort of there. He serves no real function to the plot, he’s merely thrown in for about fifteen minutes of screen time, and his character is just surface dressing. Leto doesn’t get a chance to enjoy one single ‘Joker’ moment – no “You want to know how I got these scars” scenes, and no memorable quotes, no grand introduction. In fact, it seems much of his performance may have ended up on the cutting room floor, as the marketing campaign featured the Joker heavily with many scenes from the trailer absent from the final movie.
The opening character introductions are fun (though strangely overlong – at the 30 minute mark the film is still introducing the main characters) and tries to set the tone of the piece. But the widely reported re-shoots are evident all over Suicide Squad. Balking at the all-too-serious tone and the prospect of another BvS on their hands, Warner Bros asked director David Ayer to inject more humour into the final cut, hence the choppy editing and out-of-place gags. The opening introduces Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn not once, but twice. Ah, Harley then...
The good news is Margot Robbie’s performance is right on point. Her accent does wander from ‘all-American’ to Harley’s trademark Brooklyn tones quite randomly, but she brings just the right amount of sexiness, craziness, and unpredictability to the character. Likewise, Will Smith is great as Deadshot. In fact, Smith lends the film real weight, and Deadshot is arguably the film’s focal point character. It’s hard to shake off the fact that Deadshot isn’t quite the cold-blooded hitman he’s supposed to be due to Will Smith just being, well, Will Smith. But this doesn’t really hurt the film at all.
The rest of the cast are unfortunately a mixed back. Their characters aren’t given as much dramatic range as Deadshot or Harley Quinn, and are often relegated to the background as mere spectators. Katana, for example, is simply wasted. Perhaps Suicide Squad’s biggest misstep is the central plot involving Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress. What begins as an intriguing character soon develops into overblown CGI and a ridiculous world-domination plot. The entire ending is reminiscent of 1984’s Ghostbusters climax atop the skyscraper with Gozer, except with so much (bad) CGI thrown onto the screen you may as well be watching a cartoon.
And this is what is most frustrating about Suicide Squad. When the action kicks in, instead of having the characters working as a team as the title suggests, we just get a load of jumbled shots of various characters either taking cover or fighting in close quarters. The editing is sloppy and renders much of the film as incoherent. The Joker/Harley flashbacks are nice touches, but are thrown in quite randomly.
Suicide Squad is definitely a missed opportunity. There is plenty of potential present in the movie though – Margot Robbie’s take as Harley Quinn just begs a stand-alone movie, and Leto’s Joker has the potential to be far more interesting in a separate Harley Quinn origins story. The song soundtrack was great, although overloud over dialogue, and once again did unsettle the tone – one minute we have a Guy Ritchie-like introduction sequence, then immediately followed by a ‘moody’ serious scene. And the end-credits ‘stinger’ is just as baffling as the two hours that proceeds it. DC need to step out of The Dark Knight Trilogy’s shadow and start afresh. Marvel have demonstrated perfectly that modern-day superhero films do not always have to be dark, moody, serious affairs. And DC just can’t seem to stay away from plots involving massive world-ending threats. Scale it down a bit DC!
Suicide Squad isn’t an entire disaster, and there’s definitely a more definitive ‘director’s cut’ hiding in there somewhere. It’s just a shame that DC still can’t manage to replicate the magic that Marvel can wield so magnificently.